Deshaun Watson: Cleveland Browns star agrees 11 game suspension and $5m fine in NFL settlement

Deshaun Watson training with the Cleveland Browns NFL team.
Watson signed a five-year, $230 million (£190 million) contract last March after being traded to the Cleveland Browns. Credit: AP

Cleveland Browns quarterback, Deshaun Watson, has reached a settlement with the NFL which will see him avoid missing his first season with the team, following accusations of sexual misconduct.

Watson will instead serve an 11-game suspension and pay a $5 million (£4.1 million) fine.

The 26-year-old was accused of sexual assault and harassment by two dozen women while playing for his previous team, the Houston Texans.

“I’m grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and extremely appreciative of the tremendous support I have received throughout my short time with the Browns organisation," Watson said in a statement released through the Browns.

"I apologise once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made.

“My focus going forward is on working to become the best version of myself on and off the field and supporting my teammates, however possible, while I’m away from the team.”

Asked later if he thinks the settlement is fair, Watson said: “I’m going to keep my opinion to myself.”

The settlement ends months of posturing between Watson’s legal team, the NFL and NFL Players Association.

As part of the settlement, Watson may return for the Browns’ game on Sunday, December 4 in Houston.

In a statement Watson apologised again 'for any pain this situation has caused'. Credit: AP

Cleveland Browns owners, Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement: “As we have previously conveyed, Deshaun and his representatives have abided by the NFL and NFLPA structure awaiting a final decision and we have respected the process.

“Now that a decision on discipline has been reached, we understand this is a real opportunity to create meaningful change and we are committed to investing in programs in Northeast Ohio that will educate our youth regarding awareness, understanding, and most importantly, prevention of sexual misconduct and the many underlying causes of such behavior."

On August 1, Watson was suspended for six games by Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge, who was jointly appointed by the league and union to act as an independent disciplinary officer.

Ms Robinson found Watson had violated the league’s personal conduct policy after reviewing an investigation into his actions and called his behavior “egregious” and “predatory".

Believing the suspension was too light, the league appealed and pushed Watson’s case back to NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, who had handled all player discipline in the past.

The league had previously pushed for an indefinite suspension and hefty fine.

Mr Goodell appointed former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal.

He is an attorney who was previously involved in the NFL’s decision to suspend Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games, during the 2017 season for domestic violence allegations.

Per the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, Mr Harvey’s decision would have constituted “full, final and complete disposition of the dispute".

At the owners’ meetings this month, Mr Goodell said the league’s pursuit of a year long ban was warranted following its investigation and Ms Robinson’s findings.

Mr Goodell said: “She reinforced the evidence. There were multiple violations that were egregious, and it was predatory behavior.”

In her conclusion, Ms Robinson cited Watson’s lack of remorse as a factor in her decision.

Watson apologised for the first time “to all the women that I have impacted” before making his Browns’ debut in an exhibition in Jacksonville.

Between March 2020 to March 2021 he was accused of being sexually inappropriate with the women, during massage therapy sessions in Texas.

In civil lawsuits filed in Texas, the women accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will.

One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.

Two separate grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson, who has denied any wrongdoing. He recently settled 23 of 24 lawsuits.

For now, the suspension ends months of speculation about whether Watson would play in 2022 for the Browns, who outbid several other teams, traded three first-round draft picks to the Texans in March and signed him to a five-year, $230 million (£190 million) contract.